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Mickey Sumner Reveals Her Chaotic New Mom Days on Snowpiercer: ‘My Boobs Would Be Leaking in My Costume’

When I first met Snowpiercer’s Mickey Sumner, it was at a film festival in Savannah, where she was discussing her directorial debut, I’m Listening. I chose to open with, “Hi, I hate your character on Snowpiercer so much.” What I meant was, Sumner is so incredibly good at playing Bess Till, a seemingly bad character, that it was hard to remember she was acting. Of course, I never got to the part about how good she was. Somehow, Sumner still chose to chat with SheKnows about the joys of motherhood and playing a villain-turned-hero on Snowpiercer. She gets candid about the challenges of being a working mother — and let’s just say, when you realize you need a break to breastfeed on setyou need a break to breastfeed on set. ASAP.  Not too long ago, Sumner opened up for the first time about her experience becoming a mother to 5-year-old son Akira, who has a rare genetic condition that’s yet to be clearly diagnosed. Below, Sumner talks through her experience of parenting, her Snowpiercer role, and more — read on for our full conversation below.

SK: I wanted to talk a little bit about motherhood, which you’ve so eloquently written about. What has that been like for you?

Mickey Sumner: It’s like the greatest… and worst thing that ever happened to me. My fear of always saying that is that it’s so easily taken out of context…some of the other publications, the big headline was like ‘Mickey Sumner, mental health destroyed by birth of her child, and being the mother of a kid with a disability, wracked with anxiety and depression.’ And I was like, ‘Clearly, that’s great clickbait, but you didn’t actually read the whole article,’ because my goal with that article, it was one of hope and one of ‘lucky me.’ And I think that is my biggest message — disability is not — I am not a victim, my child is not a victim. Like, stop it.

SK: You wrote, “I had to come to understand my child is not a project. We’re not working on an Akira improvement project here. He doesn’t need to be fixed.” Can you talk about that a bit?

MS: I think this whole idea of fixing is not just specific for kids with disabilities. I see parents with typical kids who are constantly thinking they need to be fixed [along with] the way we always think we need to fix ourselves. Akira does this therapy called ABM started by Anat Baniel. The basis of the therapy is your child does not need to be fixed. You need to connect with your child. So her whole thing is not fixing but connecting. Imagine if we all did that in all of our relationships with each other and with ourselves?

I’m not going to bullshit. I am challenged every day with my need to be a perfectionist; I am type A. I like to achieve things, and I love to tick off my to-do list. It gives me a sense of control and power and [I’m] having to just every day be like, ‘Nope, drop it, drop it.’  A friend of mine, we always talk about instead of milestones like inch stones. We celebrate the micro. Akira does have these successes every day. He does things that blow my mind that maybe other people wouldn’t notice or see. I just see these tiny things that he does, his universe is expanding and his confidence in his body is growing.

SK: I love that, celebrating the small wins.

MS: My friend’s mantra is, it’s “manageable.” Okay, everything is manageable. I guess there are things that are totally not manageable and they will break you. But actually, the majority of the things that we get so overwhelmed with, if you can be like, I take every hour as it comes right now!

SK: Especially, in this pandemic!

MS: If you just say, “Everything is manageable I will get through the list in the time that it needs to be done.” I also, by the way, just started Zoloft. Like, let’s talk about mental health and medicating yourself and accepting help and not creating some sort of secret about it. Like, I was so ashamed for five years. I refused medication, and that’s why now I’m like, “Everyone, I’m on Zoloft! It’s a medication.”

SK: You also wrote, “It would be a lie to say I’ve not struggled with grief. Grieving for what I thought my life would be, for the life I thought Akira would have. Becoming a mother shifts your identity.” How would you say motherhood has shifted your identity?

MS: I am not the same person that I was before I Akira. I’m not the same person physically. I’m not the same person emotionally. My priorities are totally different. My dreams are totally different. I see the world differently. I always felt like I was floating. Akira, motherhood, grounded me into this place. His birth and the beginning of his life traumatized me — trauma changes you. Again, I’m not a victim. But yeah, trauma changes you and you figure out ways to sort of heal and deal with it. I couldn’t possibly be the same person.

SK: I think we can say that raising a child does take a village. What have you learned from your parents about parenting?

MS: The village thing is real. I think my parents (Sting and Trudie Styler) really encouraged me to — I think there was a feeling that, when I had Akira, I sort of thought that my career was over. And it was them who –—and they did it in a very supportive way, but they said, “It’s really important that you don’t forget about yourself. That you don’t forget about your art and passion, and your career. It doesn’t serve Akira for you to have forgotten yourself.” They’ve just been very [supportive] throughout the last five years. I couldn’t even believe I auditioned for Snowpiercer when Akira was four months. Not because I was ever thinking I would get it. Everyone said, “Just go, just do it, just do the tape, just do it for fun, just so you can have an hour of –”

SK: Non-baby stuff.

MS: Non-baby stuff! I was breastfeeding and feeling so gross — and I f*cking got it! And I was like, ‘Oh my god,’ I can’t quite believe it. And then I was figuring out how to juggle being a mom, breastfeeding, also being a mom to a little baby that we just didn’t know what was going to happen. Trying to do all the doctor’s appointments and then also trying to get in shape and do the pilot. And then move to Vancouver. You know, it was a lot, but I feel because my parents — they’re artists and they’re very good at what they do, they inspired me [to think that], “You can raise your kids. You can be a great parent and you cannot forget what’s important to you as an individual.” Because I think especially women, (we) can really do that.

SK: On Snowpiercer, you’re probably working very long hours. What are the challenges that have come with becoming a mother in this industry?

MS: Well, when I first did the pilot, it was pre a lot of things. If I did the pilot today — and also maybe it’s because I’ve been on the show long enough and I found my voice, my confidence — I have boundaries now as a mom. But I think when I did the pilot, he was 6 months, I was literally whispering to the assistant director, “Hey, I think I have to like… I’m getting mastitis, I have to pump. Can you sneak me off set for 10 minutes to you know, pump?” I was totally just trying to deal. Whereas now I would be like, “What? I’m calling my lawyer, this is in the contract. I need time to pump. I need my baby on set,” and it’s okay for me to need these things and demand them because working mothers should be able to work and also feed their children.

SK: I basically just asked you a version of, “How do you balance it all?” And I know that some reporters get criticism like, ‘You shouldn’t ask women that.’ But the reason I think it’s so important to ask women that, is because historically women have more of an onus on them physically when they become a mother and you don’t see men in this industry being affected in the same way. No guy is going to be like, ‘I had a baby. My career is over.’

MS: Totally. And you know, literally, my boobs would be leaking in my costume, and I was trying to be like, “Don’t make this a thing.” And I think the big difference now, I don’t know if it’s the #MeToo movement, and now we have intimacy coordinators, and I just feel like there’s a place now where we can be like, “You know what? F*ck this.

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Mickey Sumner Justina Mintz/TNT

SK: I’m so happy about that progress because there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to make allowances for women who are breastfeeding and working.

MS: No, it should be absolutely required that mothers are able to work and feed their children without feeling shame, without feeling like they were being a diva, without feeling like they have to rush.

SK: And without being called difficult, because I think a lot of us live in fear because we don’t want people to say we’re difficult and we don’t want people to dislike us.

MS: I don’t want to be fired! For being, you know, “Oh, she’s a mom, she has a kid. She’s not ready to work.” And it was a pilot. So I thought if I make this too much about being a mom, we’ll find someone else who doesn’t have, you know, so many needs. And you know, I’m sure if I had asked all of those things, they would have offered them to me. But I didn’t have the confidence, the entitlement, the anything to be like this is what I need…. Oh? Hello?

Sumner is interrupted by her dad accidentally popping into the interview. Anyone who ever had to share a phone line with their parents and remembers how you felt when they picked up, started dialing and talking while you were on the phone…. That’s exactly how Sumner looked.

MS: It’s all right, Dad. Love you. (Laughing) That’s Sting. Sting-a ling-a-ding-dong.

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Instagram: @sumnermickey

SK: (Laughing) Let’s switch to Snowpiercer. Who do you like playing more, the villain or the hero? Or, in your case, both.

MS: I like playing complexity. I always wanted to be a good girl. But, I’m also a bad girl. We all have the capacity to be both. I think Till has both, even though she’s switched over to the good side. She has a temper. She kills people. She punches people in the face. She’s violent.

SK: Yes! When you had the wrench! You just bonked people on the head with it and I thought, ‘No one’s going to recover from that.’ She just casually killed them!

MS: I think I really killed them!

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Mickey Sumner David Bukach

SK: Oh, she’s still a little evil inside. Let’s talk about your costars. What is it like working with Jennifer Connelly?

MS: I mean, she’s a master class.

SK: Alison Wright?

MS: Another masterclass in comedy — I mean, she can do it all. have so much respect for her, I’m so jealous of her. I could literally watch her work all day and she’s so funny, like she keeps everything funny. She’s a scene-stealer. And I just I love her. I love watching. I can’t believe I get to work with her. She’s also my dear friend, we went to Vegas together.

SK: What’s it like working with Daveed Diggs?

MS: It’s like going to work and being like, “Are you kidding? I get to be in a scene with this guy. I get to work with this guy! I get to talk to this guy. I get to be friends with this guy.” I love him. I truly love him. Sorry, I’m gushing about everyone. I don’t want to sound cheesy, but there is so much love on this show between the cast. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced on any job.

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Mickey Sumner, Daveed Diggs and Alison Wright Justina Mintz/Turner TNT

SK: You directed your first film in the pandemic, and we had chatted about directing more in the future. Is there anything exciting coming up?

MS: I go back for season four of Snowpiercer in March for five months. I just handed my first draft of the feature I wrote to my managers and said, “This is a shit draft.” So that was a big deal for me to hand that over, because I’d really like to get that made and direct it. And it’s about motherhood.

SK: And Snowpiercer, do you want to direct on that show?

MS: Yes! TNT, let me direct an episode. Yeah, it would be a dream come true. I don’t think it’s going to happen in season four, but maybe if we get picked up for season five?

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Snowpiercer’s season 3 finale airs Monday, March 28 at 9 pm ET/PT on TNT.

Before you go, click here to see actresses who have stepped behind the camera to direct. 

halle Berry, Maggie Gyllenhaal 'Actresses Who Stepped Behind the Camera to Direct'


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